Merchant Profile: Fish For Thought

Posted in: blog, on 15 Mar 2016

Nick Wyke
Fresh lobster
by Nick Wyke

In no more than a decade, online food shopping has come a long way. Today, if you want a live lobster delivered to your door you can order it online and have it in the pot the next day. Where there’s a will — plus hunger, an early morning fisherman and technology — there’s a way.

“We sell a great deal of lobster and we’re the only online merchant selling native lobster at this time of year, not North American or Canadian,” says Paul Trudgian, who founded Fish for Thought in 2007, initially delivering fresh fish and seafood in and around his base in Cornwall.

“It’s mostly the chefs who want it alive,” he adds, “but there are customers who love to fillet whole fish and like to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.”

The Cornish lobsters are securely packaged in insulated containers packed with ice, not wasteful gel packs, which keep the contents chilled for a longer time. Most people prefer to receive the lobster cooked, split and cleaned. “It costs the same price, so you may as well let us do the hard work,” says Trudgian.

Unusually for a fish merchant, Trudgian worked with chips before fish. His previous employment, before he moved to Cornwall, was for land-based food manufacturing companies, including shifts at the McCain chip factory. He jokes that he swapped real chips for microchips when in 2008 he took over a struggling seafood retail website established by a lobster fisherman.

We go the extra mile with prep. If customers want the bone removed from mackerel, or a sea bass canoed and pin-boned, we’ll do it just like a traditional fishmonger.

The online side of the business is now the fastest growing sector for Fish for Thought, who specialise in seasonal fish and shellfish from the south-west with some 50 to 60 species landed daily around the Cornish shores. Twice daily deliveries include trade clients in London such as the Ramsay Group and Wholefoods stores.

From the get-go, Trudgian had been encouraged by food consultants that fish ticked a lot of boxes in terms of major food trends. He lists them: “Health, convenience and provenance. Our products are bang in the middle of these trends. There are still challenges. People are getting more used to shopping for fresh produce online as it cuts out so much time, but they think fish is harder to cook than it is.”

So what makes the tricky proposition of delivering fresh fish work? “We go the extra mile with prep. If chefs or other end users want the bone removed from mackerel ready to serve, or a sea bass canoed and pin-boned, we’ll do it just like a traditional fishmonger,” explains Trudgian.

“We’re also transparent. We’ll show our customers market prices and if we haven’t got fresh fish we’ll hold our hands up and apologise.

“Also, where there are occasional problems — and you can imagine with fish that when things go wrong it can be catastrophic — we’ll always compensate the customer.”

Trudgian is currently rushed off his feet as the demand for the new range of ready meals, which include lobster mac and cheese, surges. A former customer from the Bedruthan Hotel, foraging chef Adam Clark, produces restaurant-quality dishes and new crab products in the development kitchen.

“These lobster dishes are tricky and messy to make at home,” says Trudgian. “We use all the lobster bones and shells from on site which translate into fantastic stocks. You make a lot of amazing food with a really fresh seafood stock.”

So does he miss making factory chips? “No, the job is different every hour of every day which makes it exciting. There’s always the unknown challenge of the weather. I enjoy stealing ideas from chefs and having the opportunity to get products to people that they can’t buy in supermarkets [he estimates that supermarket fish is about six to ten days old when it reaches the shop shelf].”

Does he ever get the chance to take to the seas? “If the business relied on my fishing we’d have gone under in just weeks.”

How to serve lobster:

Cut all the lobster meat into bite-sized chunks and put it all back in the shell. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, some chunks of butter and season generously with pepper. Finally warm this under the grill until the butter has melted. Serve immediately with a salad, some crusty bread and a large glass of sauvignon blanc. 

Nick Wyke

Nick Wyke

Food Expert

Nick Wyke is a Times journalist and food writer responsible for developing a range of creative and interactive content from commissioning food and wine video series, building communities through social media, and organising live cookery hangouts. His work at Times Food across digital platforms has been shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers New Media Award. He is passionate about colourful seasonal food cooked simply, inspired by Britain's booming food start-up scene and likes his G&T with lots of lime.

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